New Frontiers an article by Marko Cunningham part 2
Here’s the second part of Marko’s article which he wrote for ambulanceworld.com where he collaborates often with insightful articles about his everyday work.
After a week of frustrations and rejections from NGO’s, companies and others, I finally found a sponsor for the EMS equipment, I still had to finance the trip itself but a large part of the burden was taken off me. A friend, who owns a rescue equipment company donated all the goods I needed. So with my faithful team of volunteers and a borrowed ambulance(pick-up) 6 of us packed into the pick-up with all the equipment and headed off at midnight to the Thai border town of Mae Sot. Arriving early morning we were soon met by U Hla Tun and some of the volunteers and taken across the border to Myawaddy, the capital city of the Karen State. I was amazed, and proud, that my friends had no hesitation in going on this trip, despite their knowledge of the dangers involved, I felt very happy when I looked at them working to see their commitment to helping others, as always. I always think myself lucky to be surrounded by friends like them.
Finally we arrived and were given the warm welcome I had received a week earlier, after the formalities were over we insisted we start teaching right away. They asked us if we wanted to go sight-seeing but my friends said no, they were here to work, not sight-see. I could see U Hla Tun’s normally expressionless face impressed that we were of the same mind as him, hard workers who get enjoyment from helping others. To teach and help others like this is really much more satisfying than any trip.
This time around we had a few good Thai speakers so I left the actual teaching up to my friends who I had taught over the years. They knew the way I taught and what I wanted to teach so it required very little input from me. I was able to join in and have fun for a change, to make the lessons go smoothly, yet with an air of fun. I had initially thought that the lessons might be slow and difficult for the volunteers to understand since many have no education at all but I was surprised and impressed after only one lesson that the first group could easily mimic our lesson and within minutes had a volunteer in a collar, KED, vacuum splints, and secured to a spinal board for transport. As the usual final test goes we lifted the volunteer up and down, side to side and ever upside down to show the effectiveness of the equipment and reasons for securing the patient.
With many of their patients coming from remote areas that sometimes are only accessible by foot, this new immobilizing board and equipment was a godsend to them. It was like Christmas day watching them play with the new equipment.
Finally the day was almost at an end and we enjoyed a last meal together, talked and chatted and then my friends were taken on a quick tour before being taken back over the border. I stayed on for a meeting with U Hla Tun and some other volunteers to look at future projects. My first thought was that they the volunteers need to be trained by a local, long trips like this are difficult and the language barrier is a problem sometimes. Also the need for regular assessment of the volunteers working skills is paramount in making sure they have understood and remembered what they have been taught and so I made an offer to pay for one volunteer to do a EMT-B training course in Bangkok, plus CPR-Instructor certification. The person everyone seemed to look to was a girl, mid to late 20’s who could speak fluent Thai. So now we are just waiting for confirmation from the foundation who it will be.
The second major point was water, I believe a lot of resources are wasted in water delivery and some alternative needs to be sought. Thirdly the need for a school for the seriously poor, of whom there are many. These projects are a bit beyond my financial scope but I will definitely be seeking other NGO’s who may be able to do these things.
Still, the one problem I am finding is that the NGO’s are all in Thailand and quite reluctant to come across the border. A lot of work and resources is with the refugees there and so the locals who decided to stay are in just as much need but do not get it. It’s probably safe to say that the refugees are probably better off than those who stayed. I have been to 2 refugee camps and I really do believe this to be the case. That’s not to say the camps are nice but just as a comparison to some parts of the Karen State.
But anyway, it’s made me think a lot about my work here in Thailand, and the fact that over the last 12 years, I have seen the EMS service here grow from strength to strength. My eyes now lay firmly on Myanmar. It reminds me of Thailand over 60 years ago and I really want to be a part of it. In my mind Im already planning to move there within the next 2 years to help U Hla Tun build up his rescue service and also hopefully open, and possibly run, a school.
I wrote this article with the intention to inspire people to just get out there and do it. 20 years ago I never imagined I would be working in the rescue service in Thailand for 12 years, and 12 years ago I never imagined I would have been through a Tsunami, Floods, riots and several coups, and even weeks ago I never imagined I would even be able to get into Myanmar and help the Karen people like this, but now I’m so very happy to be able to have done it and continue to do it. I keep aiming to break the limits of my imagination and to dare to be different, looking outside the box for so long now I have forgotten what the box looks like. I love my work so much, I get to meet the saints of the world and help them achieve their goals, we all volunteer to help others less fortunate than ourselves, we have instant bonds of brotherhood, we hurt no one and we give life, love and hope to those around us. Even when I am tired, down or disheartened I only have to think of my brothers and sisters around me and the work they are doing so pick myself up again. How lucky am I.
Finally I want to say to the Burmese and Karen people, congratulations on the first Karen Rescue Service FR course completion! J I can’t wait to be working with you again soon.
My favorite Chinese saying that I was taught 20 years ago always comes to mind at times like this. “Nothing is impossible, just a little difficult sometimes” and it’s how I have lead my life for the last 12 years and will continue to live it in the future.
By Marko Cunningham